Monday, February 19, 2007

Goodbye Gosse?


I recently finished reading the book pictured at left. It's a book about The Genographic Project being run by National Geographic. The purpose of the project is to show the origins of modern humans and how they all relate to one another. Think of it as a giant family tree for the entire human race.

The project is based on genetics. Every human being carries two sex chromosomes. Women have two X chromosomes and males have an X and a Y. Since the Y chromosome gets passed down from father to son without being recombined as all other genes are, they can be very useful in tracking lineages through the male line. Furthermore, because mutations occur in the Y chromosome at a fairly constant rate, you can estimate, based on how many mutations there are in the gene, how long long it has been since you and any other given person had a common male ancestor. Using this data, scientists have developed a family tree for human beings and have found that all human beings today come from one man who lived in Africa roughly 60,000 - 90,000 years ago. Such a person has been dubbed "Adam" by the project. Of course, it's sixty thousand years and not six thousand, and he wasn't the first or only male... but so be it.

You might think that this research has been poo-pooed by the Jewish establishment, as is pretty much any other idea that contradicts a literal reading of Tanach (the Bible). As it turns out, that's not the case; on the contrary it has been embraced. It was embraced because the same technology was employed to show that the vast majority of the world's Kohanim today carry the mark of being descendants of a single individual who lived about three years ago. This was trumpeted as being a proof to the truth of the Torah -- after all, modern science shows that most of the Kohanim in the world are descended from a single person... just as the Torah says. This scientific achievement is trumpeted on such kiruv sites sites as Aish and Hidabroot.

Of course, I find it interesting how they embrace the technology that shows that today's Kohanim have a single common ancestor 3,000 years ago, but reject that same technology when it shows that people have been around for a lot longer than 6,000 years.

What's interesting about this particular bit of science is that it's immune to the Gosse theory. The Gosse theory is the often-stated idea that the world was created "looking old." The classic example is that on the day Adam was created, he was created as an adult. If he was created as a twenty year old, it would imply that at least twenty years had previously existed.

Gosse's idea can work for most of the proofs to the age of the universe and the earth, but in this case, Gosse falls down flat. The reason is as follows: Genetic testing has shown us all to have a common male ancestor 60,000 years ago (and a common female ancestor much earlier than that). If we all descended from a single male only 6,000 years ago, then there would not be as much genetic variation in the human species as currently exists -- only 10% of the variations in the Y chromosome would exist. The fact that as much variation exists as it does shows that our common ancestor is much further back than 6,000 years (based on the known rate of Y chromosome mutation).

Rabbi Dovid Kornriech wrote in the Yated last year that much of the evidence of an old universe can be thrown into doubt because the laws of nature were different during the six days of creation. By claiming that some or all of nature's laws were different during the six days of creation, he claims that most, if not all of the physical, geological, archaeological and paleontological evidence can be thrown into question or tossed out completely.

However, such a theory cannot really apply to Y chromosome (and mt-DNA studies which show lineages through the female line). Once Adam came into being, creation was complete. If a literal reading of Genesis were true, then the greatest variation in the Y-chromosome we would see would be 6,000 years. The fact that we see ten times that difference clearly shows that since Adam, there have been well more than 6,000 years. It would be highly dubious to state that the rate of genetic mutation changed somewhere along the way *since* creation. It would almost be like saying that the moon changed from a gas to a solid since the Rambam's time.

The Wolf

28 comments:

Jacob Da Jew said...

Fascinating. Also highly recommended reading on the subject is Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's "Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A kabbalistic view" . The title put me off a bit but then I read it and it is just mind-blowing.

He happens to agree with you, Wolf. In fact, right at the beginning of the book, he takes aim at "Gosse's Theory.

I've posted on the subject numerous times.

The Answer said...

What about Noach? He was the sole male parent of his three male children which the whole world descended from. This would cause further problems for literalists who claim, like the Malbim, that nature changed during the flood (using that to explain why fossils look old - the flood made things look older). One could not say the mutation rate was higher before the flood.

One could say the mutation rate was higher during the flood, thus affecting Shem, Cham and Yefes. Perhaps this would account for the the different races around the world coming from the three sons (who BTW did not have children until after the flood).

Is there any way to refute this argument?

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

Since when have you known fundamentalists to be logical? It's a losing battle. They've chosen their conclusions before the facts and they're not about to let silly things like science get in the way.

Michael Koplow said...

Wolfish,

People believe what they want to. I heard the proof of the revelation at Sinai--everyone was there, unbroken tradition--from a very smart (and I'm not being sarcastic) lawyer. As a lawyer, would he accept this story as evidence, let alone proof, of anything? Seems unlikely.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand your point. Why wouldn't Gosse just respond that the Man created 6,000 years ago already had 54,000 years worth of mutations in his chromosome? I must be missing something.

BrooklynWolf said...

Because, Anon, if we all descended from one man 6,000 years ago, *everyone* alive today would have the genetic marker from that far back. The fact of the matter is that we don't -- the latest genetic marker that everyone on Earth has is 60,000 years old (approximately). If Adam had been created with 54,000 years of mutations in his Y-chromosome, then everyone would have it -- along with all the other changes that were supposed to have happened between 60,000 years and 6,000 years ago. But not all of humanity has those changes.

The Wolf

Shmendrik said...

Yes, I orignally had the same reaction as anonymous, but the answer is simple. It's a matter of how you conceptualize it. It's not as if there is some perfect Y chromosome from 60K years ago which now has 60K years of mutations in it, in which case Adam could have been created with 54K years of mutation. The point is that the diversity among Y chromosomes is something which could not occur if they had only diverged 6000 years ago. Thus, no set of starting conditions, no matter how contrived, could give us the results we have.

Incidentally, Wolf, to play the devil's advocate: Since it says Hashem changed Cham/Canaan and their descendants' skin color, obviously that means he changed their genotype. Therefore, it is not at all far fetched to say that God fiddled with people's genetypes at various points in history. QED.

Anonymous said...

So if you do embrace this theory, what exactly is your take? Did Noach not exist? If not, did the avos exist? etc. Where do you draw the line? I am curious as to why you just don't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Shmendrik said...

There was no one man from 4000 years ago who was the father of all humanity, this is impossible for many reasons. This does not mean that Noach didn't exist, but rather that the biblical story of Noah is not entirely literal.

On the other hand, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the Avos.

Also, you say "if you embrace this theory" as if it's an odd idea which can be accepted or not. It's not. It's a simple fact: All men are not descended from one common male ancestor from 6000 years ago.

Anonymous said...

"This would cause further problems for literalists who claim, like the Malbim, that nature changed during the flood (using that to explain why fossils look old - the flood made things look older)."

I once read that a certain lecturer tried using this argument of the Malbim at a kiruv lecture. A person in the audience challanged him by asking since when was the moon affected by the Flood? We have moon rocks and they've been dated. How did the Mabul affect those rocks?

cipher said...

Wolf,

I think you meant to say, "...the vast majority of the world's Kohanim today carry the mark of being descendants of a single individual who lived about three thousand years ago."

Jacob Da Jew said...

Wolf, You've been tagged!!

Anonymous said...

Shmendrik,
The Torah clearly is not compatible with humanity having a common ancestor 60,000 years ago. If that part of the Torah is not true, why do you think the rest has any truth? This is what I cannot understand about fellows like you. How about a little intellectual honesty and admit you are an Apikoris? I am not necessarily saying you are wrong but an Apikoris you are.

BrooklynWolf said...

Last Anon,

Two issues:

1. Firstly, the Torah, *as literally read* may be incompatible with a common ancestor 6000 years ago, but who says that B'raishis has to be read literally? There are many other parts of the Torah that aren't understood literally. Something doesn't have to be literally true to be true.

f that part of the Torah is not true, why do you think the rest has any truth?

Do you always take all documents and works on an all-or-nothing basis? Do you advocate tossing out all medical books because there might be some stuff in there that is later proven false? Do you think that we should toss out every almanac because some information in there may later be found to be untrue? Why do you posit that if one part of the Torah is false (which is not what I'm saying) then it must be false in toto?

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Cipher,

Yep, you're right. I meant three thousand years ago. :)

Anonymous said...

We have a mesorah how to interpret the Torah. This mesorah is from Sinai. Please show me one source that reconciles your version of reality with Bereishis. Don't tell me about the TY. All he says is that there were worlds before this one, but he never said the history of this current world is more than 6000 years old. It would not jive with Bereishis.

Anonymous said...

Please inform us at what point we begin taking the Chumash literally. Do you believe Avraham lived to 175? I think any scientist would say you are nuts!

BrooklynWolf said...

There are several sources that tell us that when the evidence in front of our eyes, or our reason, contradicts a pasuk, the pasuk can be reinterpreted to a non-literal meaning. R' Sa'adiah Gaon is one such source.

Or do you believe that Chava was the ancestress of all life (including non-human)?

As to Avraham's age, I don't find it out of the realm of possibility that he lived to 175. One can certainly ascribe it to Divine Grace (which Avraham certainly had).

In any event, you still have not answered my question -- why do you assume that if I hold any part of Tanach to be false (which I don't -- keeping in mind that literal truth is not the same thing as historical truth) that I have to hold all of it to be false?

Lastly, please choose an identity, even if only for this conversation... at this way if are more than one anonymous commentator, I can keep track of who is who.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Please inform us at what point we begin taking the Chumash literally.

Thinking more about this comment of yours, I think the following needs to be pointed out:

There is no single "cutoff" point where we say "from here on the chumash is to be read literally." Each and every statement has to be evaluated on it's own basis.

For example, suppose we agreed that from Lech L'cha on, everything should be literal (regardless of our differing opinions of the first 11 p'rakim). Does that mean that I have to ascribe to the view that the Jews at the Reed Sea saw God's hand because it's after Lech L'cha and therefore must be read literally? Obviously not. The pasuk before Az Yashir is to be interpreted nonliterally... regardless of it's place in Chumash.

The Wolf

Yitzi said...

If you gave me a book that said seemingly implausible things (and the Chumash is full of them) and you found part of it to be provably false, I believe you would reject the whole book as being nonsense. I would like to hear of one respectable Rav from any orthodox camp that would agree that Bereshis is compatable with the premise of the book.
Why do you take the Exodus as literal (or do you?). Is there any evidence of a collapse of the Egyptian empire 3,000 years ago? (Besides for all the other quesions raised about the Exodus).

BrooklynWolf said...

Yitzi,

Firstly, thank you for taking an identity... this should make this easier.

f you gave me a book that said seemingly implausible things (and the Chumash is full of them) and you found part of it to be provably false, I believe you would reject the whole book as being nonsense.

No, your premise is nonsense. Take an American history text (l'havdil) which states that George Washington chopped down cherry trees and told his father "I cannot tell a lie." Those are generally regarded nowdays as myths. Yet, even if this information is false, does that mean that Washington did not become the first president? Does the counter-factuality of the cherry tree story invalidate mean that when the book states that he led the Continental Army against the British that too has to be a myth? Does Washington's "I cannot tell a lie" story invalidate the fact that Lincoln was shot at Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865... a fact contained in the same textbook.

In short, your assertion that I have to accept the entire Chumash as literally true or reject it in toto is patently false.

Secondly, it must be pointed out that lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. The fact that there are no Egyptian records of an Exodus does not mean that it did not happen. I can still maintain a belief in the Exodus despite the fact that Egypt's chonologies contain no mention of it.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I still don't get the problem. I mean if Gosse is suggesting that the world was created already as an old world, then obviously there would have been many more people around besides Adam. So if you assume that Adam alone was the only one created, you MUST posit that he contained within him the total charactersitics of an entire human race that would have developed by that time and that somehow as he had children and grandchildren that genetic stuff just kind of spread out in some way. So while that does seem by itself to be rather a stretch, i don't see that it is not consistent with Gosse's whole idea to begin with. In which case all of this DNA discussion does not matter vis-a-vis Gosse.

BrooklynWolf said...

Anon,

Let's try to explain it this way...

Assume the following family tree:


Bob(1)
|
|
|-----------------------------
| |
| |
Arthur(2) Charles(3)
| |
| |
|------ -----------|
| | | |
| | | |
Don(4) Ephraim(5) Fred(6) Ian(7)

The numbers in parenthasis denote genetic markers that are passed down from father to son. So Don has markers 1, 2 & 4. Fred has markers 1, 3 & 6. And so on.

Now, let's put these people where they belong. Say "Bob" is the most recent ancestor of humanity and lived 60K years ago. Arthur and Charles lived 6,000 years ago. The people on bottom are more recent.

Now, let's pretend that people believe that Arthur was Divinely created and that there was no one before him. If that's the case, then everyone on the planet should carry his genetic marker(2). Sure, you could invoke Gosse and say that God put marker#1 in him in order to make him look older. But the fact that there are people in the world without marker #2 (people descended from Charles), proves that Arthur is not the most recent ancestor of everyone in the tree. And you can't invoke Gosse here by saying that Arthur was created with "old" genetic markers... because not everyone has his marker... people have alternative markers dating from the same time period. If everyone descended from Arthur, no one would have divergent genetic markers at the 6K year level.

*That's* why Gosse fails here.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Sorry, the formatting didn't come out as I wanted it to.

Bob(1) has two descendants... Arthur(2) and Charles(3)

Arthur has two descendants - Don(4) and Ephraim(5)

Charles has two descendants -- Fred(6) and Ian(7).

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I don't really get it, frankly. I mean, once you're positing supernatural creation- anything can be worked out. God created man 6000 years ago with 60,000 years of history and then guided DNA information to be spread through the human race in such a way as to preserve the 60,000 year record and not to reflect a 6000 year old ancestor. I don't see why that's any more of a stretch than the original theory.

BrooklynWolf said...

Anon,

True, once you posit supernatural creation you can posit anything -- you can also posit that the world was created five minutes ago.

However, the general idea of Gosse is that the world was created "old" but that since creation, things have followed a natural course. You can't invoke Gosse here because now you're positing that God not only created an "old" world, but that He also changes the laws of genetics, mutation and inheritance every once in a while after Creation.

The Wolf

Yirmiahu said...

“1. Firstly, the Torah, *as literally read* may be incompatible with a common ancestor 6000 years ago, but who says that B'raishis has to be read literally?”

Chazal, “אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְּשׁוּטוֹ” and Rav Sa’adia Gaon, “We, the congregation of Israelites, accept in its literal sense and its universally recognized meaning whatever is recorded in the books of God and have been transmitted to us” and “The result of the application of such a method of interpretation would be that here would not be an item left of the entire story of the creation [of the world] that would not have been divested of its literal meaning, which is the creation and origin of things” and “The consequence [of the consistent use of this method] would be that there would not be a marvel or miracle left but would have been divested of its literal meaning and thus have become nullified.” (page 426).

see http://machzikeihadas.blogspot.com/2008/09/what-problem.html

“Do you always take all documents and works on an all-or-nothing basis?”

I don’t accept a document as sometimes speaking for God and sometimes being erroneous.

“There are several sources that tell us that when the evidence in front of our eyes, or our reason, contradicts a pasuk, the pasuk can be reinterpreted to a non-literal meaning. R' Sa'adiah Gaon is one such source.”

Rav Sa’adiah requires deductive proof for a non-literal interpretation. NO other option must be available.

“However, the general idea of Gosse is that the world was created "old" but that since creation, things have followed a natural course.”

There are a few other supernatural events which may be relevant (which I’m sure Gosse would have accepted not that it matters). I hope to write more on this soon. It’s a good challenge but I don’t think Gosse has a copyright on apparent age and its implication.

http://machzikeihadas.blogspot.com/2008/10/parshas-breishis-in-beginning-brias.html

Apharcheses L'emes said...

I will present the following answer: The world was created old as per Gosse Theory and man is 6000 yrs old, yet man has the genome record of 50-100,000yrs due to the miracle mentioned in Pirkei D”R”Eliezer 51:
פרקי דרבי אליעזר (היגר) - "חורב" פרק נא
המופת השלישי מיום שנבראו שמים וארץ לא היה אדם שנזרקה בו שיבה עד שבא אברהם אבינו ותמהו כל העולם שלא כמותו מיום שנברא העולם, ומניין שנזרקה שיבה, שנ' ואברהם זקן בא בימים, ר' לויטס איש יבנה אומ' ככליל שהוא כבוד ראש המלך כך השיבה כבוד והדר לזקנים, שנ' והדר זקנים שיבה

which states that in the generation of Avraham Avinu “seiva “ or old age came to the world. Meaning, that at that time God changed the nature of all mankind post Adam and post Noach ( side note: which thereby avoids the problems of the generations coming from one man) to die earlier ie: to live shorter life spans than they did before –and resulted in a complete transformation of their biology and in doing so, for Gosse, also implanted a a fake history of man living well over 6000 yrs in all the peoples of the earth with all different genetic codes going back to one Cro-Magnon Man or Homo Sapien, 60-90,000 yrs ago . This allows one to retain a literal understanding of Breishis and flow with scientific evidence. Furthermore, the fact that this miracle is recorded hundreds of years before the Genome Project allows one to say this with a firm believability in the Mesorah.